Gideon's Blog

In direct contravention of my wife's explicit instructions, herewith I inaugurate my first blog. Long may it prosper.

For some reason, I think I have something to say to you. You think you have something to say to me? Email me at: gideonsblogger -at- yahoo -dot- com

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Monday, March 31, 2003
My apologies to my readers for not posting for a week. Here at my day job, we're in the process of closing the biggest deal in our group's history, and I've been kind of swamped. So the blog has gone by the wayside. But please do keep checking in. You never know when I'll pop up with something new - it could even be today.

Monday, March 24, 2003
John O'Sullivan has a good piece today on the Blair-Chirac "duel" for the soul of Europe. And the Weekly Standard has a good piece by Chris Caldwell about France's ambitions to become the most powerful Muslim country on earth.

One thing you can say about those "jingo" cons - they may be starry-eyed idealists when it comes to Arab democracy, but they are extremely cold-eyed when it comes to the French. Which is always a good thing.

I'm afraid I'm still in pessimism mode. Not because of how the war is going. I think the war is going about as well as anyone who has any idea what war means could possibly expect. Yes, we're taking casualties. Yes, the enemy is behaving treacherously. You signed up for this war because you thought all wars were casualty-free cakewalks? Feel free to get off the bandwagon. The men leading this war are not under your illusions. If we get out of this with allied casualties in the hundreds, Iraqi casualties in the thousands, no WMD used, no major terrorism in Western cities, and Saddam Hussein and his henchmen certifiably dead or in the dock, we'll have had a huge, massive win.

No, I'm pessimistic about the post-war situation. And I'm getting increasingly annoyed at the tone of the supposedly conservative press stumping for this war, and their expectations for post-war Iraq.

Let me tell you what sorts of things are worrying me. There was a very good piece in The New Republic's latest newstand issue by John Judis. (It's only available to subscribers online.) Most of the time, the stuff Judis writes could have been ghost-written by the AFL-CIO. But every now and again, he writes an astonishingly important piece. The last one I can remember was about conservative think-tanks who take money from what Seth Lipsky touchingly continues to call Red China. The latest is about how oil states make lousy democracies, and what that portends for post-war Iraq.

The argument is not a cultural one; it's purely economic (or political-economic, if that's a word). Here's the gist. Democracy depends on the existence of civil society, sources of power independent of the state. Basic to civil society is an independent merchant class. Their wealth underwrites other kinds of independence of the state, and the state's dependence on them for tax revenues moderates the state's natural desire to subsume all power under its wings. But oil wealth subverts this relationship and progressively undermines the emergence of an independent capitalist class. Because the state can subsist on nothing but oil revenues, it can avoid depending on the independent merchants for revenue. And because the state is flush, it can afford to buy off other segments of society with a generous welfare state. Further, oil is sold on world markets for hard currency. This currency has to be recycled by either purchasing imports or investing abroad. The ultimate impact of oil exports, then, is to raise the value of the oil exporter's currency, reduce the competitiveness of its domestic manufacturers, and export capital. With the state growing, and the private sector squeezed out of competition, it makes progressively more and more sense for the incipient middle class to join the state bureaucracy rather than trying to compete with the state in the private sector. In the end, you have an economic monoculture and a politically super-centralized system, quite the opposite of what you'd want if you were trying to build a healthy democracy.

Now, this picture makes a lot of sense to me. It's one piece of the explanation why some of the wealthiest countries in the world in raw material terms - Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria - have also been colossal failures economically and politically. It also happens to dovetail perfectly with the 17th century Spanish explanation for their own decline relative to the French and the English. (Digression: in the 16th century, Spain was the most powerful country on earth, with a huge navy, a vast overseas empire, and European possessions in the Netherlands and Habsburg Austria. By the mid-17th century, it was plain to all that Spain had been totally eclipsed, and that the new competition for global mastery was between France and England. How had this happened? The Spanish were not unlearned, were not unmartial, and had very substantial resources. One diagnosis that became quite common was that Spain had been poisoned by cheap silver from the mines of Peru. It was more sensible economically for Spain to mine silver, then spend it on manufactures produced abroad - not only consumer goods like expensive textiles, but ships and other military goods. The end result was a hollowed-out Spain, unable to develop technologically or economically, but subsidizing the development of their already more-advanced neighbors.)

The point of this digression is: here's yet another reason to be pessimistic about post-war Iraq. Not only is Iraq ridden by religious and ethnic division (I'm sorry, diversity); not only is there no democratic tradition; not only is there no patriotic elite with a sense of Iraq as a nation to which they have a duty of honor; not only is it surrounded by vultures eager to dismember it - not only all these problems, but in addition what was supposed to be a major source of strength for the new Iraq, its oil wealth, is now revealed as potentially a major obstacle to healthy development!

So there's plenty of reason to worry. And then I open up my conservative periodicals and read a piece like this by Amir Taheri about what we must and mustn't do in post-war Iraq. Some things we have to do include preventing the Turks from invading the North, the Iranians from invading the South, and the Kurds from invading from the inside. We're supposed to prevent any revenge-taking but provide an amnesty for all but the most senior members of the regime. We're supposed to provide $200 billion in assistance for rebuilding the country (after taking great care and costing allied lives to avoid breaking it in the first place). We're supposed to invite France, Germany, Russia and the U.N. to be intimately involved in the post-war reconstruction, letting by-gones be by-gones. But we're not supposed to talk about a military governor. We're not supposed to impose a political choice on the Iraqis. In fact, we're supposed to take all of the responsibility for preventing anything bad from happening, and pay for the same, while holding no actual power and imposing no political conditions on the Iraqis.

Where is this guy coming from? Just consider the domestic analogy. Supposed somebody said that before the cops are allowed to bust a particularly violent crack-dealing gang, they should invest in an empowerment zone for the community, promise an amnesty (heck, promise government jobs!) for lower-level gang members, and put a community-elected board in charge of second-guessing the decisions the cops make. Would anyone call someone who said such a thing a conservative?

I'm not arguing that Taheri's objectives are bad. I mean, I might argue with some of them (give France a big role in reconstruction? why?) but in general he's arguing in favor of all good things. But what on earth is the reason for setting the bar so high? Is there no room for realism, for compromise, for unfortunate necessity? Have we become such idealists that anything less than perfection is a betrayal?

There will be real political consequences to this kind of utopianism. If it is shared by the Iraqi exiles of the INC (and I suspect it is), the necessary compromises we make to protect our security and ensure the viability of post-war Iraq will likely be denounced as "interference." We have already heard numerous veiled threats from Iraqi exiles and other anti-Saddam types that if America does not do this or that according to their requests then our occupation will be deemed illegitimate and will be met with terrorism. If these people are just mouthing off, can someone tell them that what they are saying sounds like a threat, and will be treated as such by the American armed forces? And if they are not just mouthing off, but are indeed making threats, can we take note of that?

And then I open the Weekly Standard and come across this piece by Stephen Schwartz. Schwartz has done the whole world a service by shining a bright light on Wahhabi extremism, its connections to terrorism, and Saudi involvement in financing it. But he is also determined to argue - against all evidence - that Wahhabism is a uniquely dangerous, even evil, branch of Islam. This is unfair to Wahhabism and is dangerously blind towards the rest of the Islamic world. Among the Sunnis, the fundamentalists of the Deobandi school and the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt developed independently of Saudi Wahhabism (though they have cross-fertilized since then). And among them as well we find the tolerant regimes of Tunisia and Morocco. Meanwhile, among the supposedly all-peaceful Shia we find the worthies of Hezbollah and Hamas, the free and open democracy of Yemen, and the extremely tolerant mullahs of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. Stephen Schwartz would have us prosecute not a war against Islam but a war against Sunni Islam on behalf of Shia Islam. This would be like responding to IRA terrorism by providing arms to Ian Paisley.

Mind you, I'm not denying that the Shia of Iraq have suffered terribly. I think the Shia of Iran could be a valuable ally after they throw off their government. But I expect that, when and if they do that, a great many will throw Islam out with the bathwater. (Certainly a number of Iranian clerics worry that's precisely what will happen, and are turning against the regime for just that reason.) I see no reason to demonize the Shia the way we did back when Hezbollah was blowing up American marines. But by the same token, I can't see how starry-eyed idealism about them - or, for that matter, about the Kurds, or the Kosovar Albanians, or whoever - can serve our interests, or make it any more likely we'll be successful in our current war. And I certainly don't see what's conservative about such blindness.

I know I'm not being fair. There's plenty of conservative commentary, including much pro-war commentary, that is more realistic about what we're facing. And I share these conservatives' baseline optimism. I'm a Whig, too, you know. I believe in human potential, the universal attraction of liberal democracy and freedom, and all that. I want to see American arms serve as a force for good in the world, and I don't think we are well-served by cynicism. But I don't see how we're well-served by an ideologically blinkered optimism either.

We are engaged in a very difficult campaign. The struggle against German imperial ambition lasted 30 years. The consequences of the first war of that struggle included the rise of Soviet Communism, and of the second included Soviet domination of half of Europe. The struggle to defeat Soviet Communism lasted 40 years. The consequences of that struggle included a number of nasty wars, American involvement in supporting several odious dictatorships, the ever-present threat of nuclear annihilation and, not incidentally, the growth of radical Islam, our current enemy. We will be very lucky if the war we are now engaged in is over in as little as a decade. We are fighting in, and fighting to change, a very badly broken part of the world. If it was an easy fix, someone would have fixed it by now. That we have little choice in the matter should not blind us to the difficulties we will face.

This makes sense to me. The U.S. and British forces are deliberately not engaging in a total occupation of "conquered" cities because of the imperative to drive to Baghdad and "cut the head off the snake." But the result is that Iraqi civilians and much of the regular army - who do hate Saddam, but who don't trust the U.S. after 1991 - don't see physical evidence of the American occupation. Maybe we're lying, just like their own government does? Best to keep your head down until the smoke clears and you see whose flag is flying from the post office, or whatever the Iraqi equivalent may be. In other words: we shouldn't expect the kind of help we could have had in 1991, not until the war is completely over.

Sunday, March 23, 2003
Telegraph: I was a naive fool to be a human shield for Saddam. Well, I could have told you that, guy.

Note to paleos: the naive fool in question is Jewish.

Saturday, March 22, 2003
Following up to the last post, and to the ongoing discussion about the paleos.

I think I can confidently state that William F. Buckley - the fellow who threw the Birchers out of the conservative movement - would have pulled the switch on Julius and Ethel Rosenberg himself had his involvement been necessary. I dare say all the Jews at NR today would affirm that they would have done the same.

Let's make something clear: the original Jewish neo-conservatives - Irving Kristol et al - that the paleos so malign are people who defined their politics by the struggle against Communism, not the defense of Israel. (Back at that time, Israel was a Socialist country supported more strongly by France and Czechoslovakia than by America; Eisenhower's Administration tilted pro-Arab.) I needn't remind my audience, moreover, that the paleos consider Communism to have been an essentially Jewish enterprise, and while that isn't true, it is true that Communism had more "soft support" among Jews than should make us (Jews) comfortable. By that I mean that while 99.99% of Jews would never have done what the Rosenbergs did - any more than 99.99% of Brits would have done what Kim Philby did, or 99.99% of Anglo Americans would have done what Alger Hiss did - sympathy for the Rosenbergs, and disbelief in their crimes, was far more widespread. (And probably remains so.) The point being: if there was ever a group of people who had decisively proved their loyalty to America and its ideals over the prejudices of their narrow ethnic constituency, the Jewish neo-cons are that group. Interesting then that the paleos have spent so much of their energy attacking precisely this group of people, and ignoring the sorts of folks that Grover Norquist has been hanging out with.

I don't even think I need to comment about this. I think my sentiments are adequately expressed by Glenn Reynolds et al.

Thank you, Michael Walker. I'll be thinking of you the next time we visit Stratford, Ontario.

Can I ask a question? Why are these people called "peace demonstrators"?

Friday, March 21, 2003
Unfortunately, as I've been saying for quite a long time, Martin Kramer - and Uriel Dann - are right. We are buying a very big responsibility here: the creation of an Iraqi nation. I don't think we had any choice. But I am decidedly not optimistic about the prospects of victory.

A realistic best-case outcome, from my perspective, is: revolution in Iran, mainstreaming of the Turkish Islamists into something like the Christian Democratic parties of Western Europe, and American reliance on these two parties' friendship for us - and mutual suspicion - to keep Iraq reasonably under wraps. Turkey and Iran are nations. Iraq is not. Failed nations will always be running sores on the international scene. And no one knows how to make a nation where there isn't one. As I've also been saying for a long time: there is only one country in the Arab world that approximates a nation-state (and imperfectly at that): Egypt. There are a handful of functioning traditional states making a slow transition to modernity: Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan, maybe Kuwait. The rest is tyranny or anarchy (or a combination of both - e.g. Algeria). The challenge in Iraq is: after we depose a particularly dangerous instance of the first, how do we prevent the second. It won't be easy.

I know how you feel, Rod. We all - pro- and anti- - got to keep it together.

Thursday, March 20, 2003
Why, you may ask, am I blogging about diplomacy rather than about the war, now that diplomacy is over and the war has begun?

(1) If you want to follow the war, turn on the television.
(2) I am a blogger, not an expert, and the war is now in expert-territory.
(3) I am thinking ahead. After the war, it'll be diplomacy time again.

I suspect this is probably an accurate prediction of post-war relations with our European allies. I would differ on Russia; whatever Bush saw when he looked into Putin's soul, I don't think he's under the illusion that Russia is an "ally" of the U.S. the way, say, Britain is. Moreover, Russia hasn't crossed us, not really; they never had to "show their cards" because the French showed theirs first. Turkey, I think, falls into the same bucket: we can't afford not to deal with them, as they can't afford not to deal with us, and the only reason we lost that vote there was because of State Department bungling. (Any chance someone actually gets fired for it? Nah. No one gets fired from the Bush White House.) As for Germany: I think it's clear that American friendship is on ice until they get rid of their Chancellor. And what's he polling now - negative 20%?

Interesting comparison of the coalitions for the 1991 Iraq war and the current one:

While the glib comment would be "hey, there's the same number of countries on our side this time as last time" and the mocking rejoinder would be, "hey, your new coalition is a bunch of countries you could buy on eBay" there is a real pattern to the change. The big difference is: the first coalition was a coalition of the Western Alliance and the Arab League, who had a common interest in upholding the principle that a country (Kuwait) can't simply be erased by an act of aggression. The new coalition is a coalition of Countries With Real Enemies Who Would Like America On Their Side.

The countries who joined the list are ex-Communist bloc countries (Albania, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Estonia, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania; throw in Ethiopia, Eritrea, El Salvador and Nicaragua if you like as well), and countries looking for U.S. help (Colombia, fighting the FARC narco-terrorists, the Philippines, fighting al-Qaeda-allied separatists, and Japan, nervous about North Korea). The major dropouts are major Western countries trying to protect themselves by abandoning the U.S. (Canada, France, Germany), some minor ones with no particular reason to sign on to a war if they don't have to (Greece, Norway, Portugal), and Muslim countries who are opting out of a war against a Muslim country because they can (Bangladesh, Egypt, Morocco, Pakistan, Syria). Of the latter, none are necessary for this war; all the bordering countries are on-board except Syria, and we are frankly better off not fighting beside the Baathists of Damascus. If Pakistan or Egypt were becoming unhelpful in the fight against al-Qaeda because of the Iraq campaign, that would be a real, and significant cost. But we don't actually need them to publicly support the Iraq war.

As for the Western defections: the only ones that matter are Canada and Germany. Canada, because they have been a valuable ally in war and peace, and we don't want to lose them. I'm a frank Canadophile - by which I mean that I like Canadians, the people, the land, the culture, not that I like the government in Ottawa. I'd hate to think the country has gone beyond the point of no return in being a useful ally. Germany, because it has been a crucial U.S. ally for 50 years and losing them means seeing Europe become a decisively anti-American power (well, decisively anti-America, anyhow). I don't think we'll have stalwart support long-term from Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, etc. if Franco-Germany really sets out to "balance" America. I think they'll see which side of their bread is buttered and cozy up to Brussels. As I've blogged before, I worry that Germany's anti-American trend reflects a fundamental change in the ideological makeup of the country post-reunification. Be a damned shame if Maggie turned out to be right about this. But she did warn us.

In any event, this war is only "unilateral" in the sense that it did not have French approval. We have clear authorization for the use of force from the UN, and had it even if 1441 didn't exist. We have the support of the countries most directly threatened by Saddam Hussein (his Gulf neighbors) and a coalition of allies, some significant (Britain, Italy, Poland, Turkey, Australia, Japan), some . . . not (Albania, Estonia, El Salvador). What we don't have is a united West. That is a real loss. I wonder if it can be recovered.

I get interesting mail whenever I put up one of my posts about gay marriage (or, in this case, gay rabbis). No one seems to like my solution to what seems to be a genuine dilemma. The consensus seems to be that the circle cannot be squared: either we accept gay people fully for what they are, and jettison the idea of sexual morality entirely (apart from retaining the importance of mutual consent), or we defend the idea of sexual morality at the price of sending gays back to (or keeping them in) the closet.

Is everybody out there really happy with these alternatives? I must admit, I find the general state of debate depressing indeed.

Good rundown by Michael Barone of how we got here, and how specious are the claims of what Mickey Kaus calls the "balking hawks."

(Another aside apropos the Paleos: one of the weirder conjunctions is how the far-right in Israel and the paleo-right in America both have a soft-spot for Serbian ultra-nationalism. The far-right Israelis saw an analogy between Serb efforts to "cleanse" Kossovo and Israeli efforts to settle Judea and Samaria. I would have thought this was the absolute best way possible to discredit the settlement enterprise, but there you have it. In any event, they were unnerved by the Kossovo war because it suggested that Israel would come under similar fire for settlements. Arafat saw it the same way, incidentally, and claimed when the "second intifadeh" began and the Israeli army responded that now the Americans would have to come in and defend the Palestinians against the Israelis like they defended the Kosovar Albanians from the Serbs. Meanwhile, the American paleos opposed the Kossovo war because they saw it as a precedent for a Pax Americana, something they opposed on principle, but once they made contact with the Serb ultra-nationalists they found kindred spirits: a people who hate and fear the outside world and adhere to a narrow, tribal worldview. For the same reason, many American paleos kind of admire our terrorist adversaries; bin Laden, after all, is just trying to "cleanse" his own civilization of all foreign influence.)

Very important piece by Byron York about the feud between Grover Norquist and Frank Gaffney over the Bush Administration's relations with Muslim groups with links to terrorism. If this Administration has a Achilles heel, this is it: the cozy relationship with Saudi Arabia and with entities involved in terrorism but backed by that country.

But let me make a side comment about Norquist's strategy. It's not a crazy idea to say: let's go after groups that are socially and economically conservative but who are members of ethnic or religious minority groups. It's not crazy for the Republicans to target Muslims, or Hindus, or Orthodox Jews, or Pentecostal Hispanic small-business owners, or what have you. But catering to these groups' foreign-policy or ethnic agendas will be a losing strategy, always, because back "home" many of these groups are in conflict with one another. How do you court the Hindu vote and the Pakistani-American vote, or the Orthodox Jewish vote and the Arab vote? You're not going to do it by highlighting your sensitivity to their concerns about the Indo-Pakistani conflict or the Arab-Israeli conflict. You're going to win their votes by tailoring a universal message - on individual responsibility, business initiative, respect for the family, etc. - to the particular concerns of the group. And funny, I thought that this kind of universalism was what being a Republican was all about.

Wednesday, March 19, 2003
David Frum goes all-out against the so-called paleos. Good for him. It's a great piece - particularly for the detailed history of where the paleos came from over the past generation.

But I can only give him two and a half cheers, because deep down, there is an argument there to be rebutted, and I don't feel like Frum does it. He does a masterful job of proving that these people are consumed with resentment, envy and hate; that they are mediocre nostalgists and posing anti-Semites; that they hate their country and are in no sense conservatives. But the more articulate among them - Pat Buchanan especially - do have the germ of a coherent ideology. And it's worthwhile articulating that ideology to see if, on their own terms, these guys make any sense.

The paleo ideology is not an ideology that one associates with a "global vision," but in fact it does have one. That vision is: each nation, living true to itself in its own land, minding its own business. Nations are real, they say; they are out there, in the world, and are probably genetic in origin. Trying to get different national groups to live together under one government is folly. Similarly, going out and conquering other nations is folly. War is just a scheme by the wealthy and well-placed to advance their interests; the interests of the common people do not require conquest.

This is a plausible vision for a world order: a world of nation-states with clear borders who look out for their own interests and let their citizens (or subjects) alone so long as they don't upset the internal social order. I can like the vision or dislike it, but it's not incoherent.

But what does one do when a state starts violating that order?

This is where I start to lose the thread of paleo logic. When some state out there - Iraq, say, but you could just as well have said Wilhelmine Germany or Imperial Japan - sets out to conquer its neighbors and aggrandize power, the paleos now argue that this is none of our business. Perhaps the Wilsonians are wrong that we are obliged to do something about such aggression - but why are we obliged not to do something, as the paleos seem to claim? They hate Churchill for standing up to Hitler; they claim Roosevelt treasonously conspired to get us into war with Japan. But the Axis was very clearly bent on dominating the world and reducing all other powers to dependencies. Why on earth should America have allowed such a thing to happen? If America is not directly attacked, they imply, we don't care how powerful other countries get - countries determined to use their power to further aggrandize power at our expense. America, in other words, should behave like Switzerland, zealously guarding its own freedom but accommodating itself to the international "realities" created by countries with more willingness to shape events, even by violence.

I think that's a plausible, maybe the most plausible, way for Switzerland to behave, because Switzerland is a small country, so it doesn't have a choice in the matter. But how, precisely, could America behave this way? How would we be better off if, just to pick an example, Iraq had been able to conquer Kuwait and Saudia Arabia, develop nuclear weapons, and thereby become a rival, anti-American superpower? How would we be better off if, to pick another example, we withdrew our security assurances to Taiwan and South Korea, and these countries were either absorbed by an expanding China or, along with Japan, acquired nuclear weapons of their own with which to deter the Chinese? How are we better off if allies and friends conclude that America is self-interested in an unenlightened way, and therefore must not be relied upon when evil men threaten them? How are we better off if enemies conclude that we will never use our power even to defend our own interests, but will always seek accommodation to avoid war?

My litmus test for thinking like a genuine paleo-conservative, not a snivelling self-hater, is: what would Old Hickory do? Andrew Jackson was just about the perfect paleo President. He hated the elites, and was hated by them in turn. He had contempt for blacks and hated American Indians. He was an avowed foe of the national government, destroying the Bank of the United States and generally getting the government out of economic life as much as possible. He treated the British and the French with equal disdain. He had a violent and unpredictable temper. If the paleos don't like him, there must be no one in American history they can admire.

I think I can state with confidence that if Jackson had been President on 9/11/2001, Afghanistan would be radioactive slag, as would Mecca, and the Persian Gulf would be an American garrison.

All these paleos who admire the antebellum South but fulminate against defending America should remember that the real paleos - the actual Southern Conservatives - were avid Imperialists. They were the backbone supporters of war with Mexico, and wanted to go on and conquer Cuba and anything else they could get their hands on. Jackson may have hated the Bank of the United States, but he had no objection to using force to defend and advance American interests. And he never worried about the body count. There is not a doubt in my mind that the real paleos - folks like, say, Anne Coulter - would be calling for a general massacre of America's enemies, and would never once wonder "what did we do to make them so mad at us?"

(As an aside, I wonder if the nostalgists for the Old Confederacy remember that a Jew - Judah P. Benjamin - was considered by Jefferson Davis to be the most valuable and brilliant member of his cabinet. Not something most Jews would be proud of, I suppose, but a fact nonetheless.)

I'm not a paleo-conservative. I think the neo-conservatives are right about one key fact: the internal character of a regime, particularly a radical regime, shapes its foreign policy. Totalitarian states are organized around war, and so will always be a danger to America. I've also got a Whiggish optimism about human potential that doesn't sit well with a conservative temperament. But today's paleos don't measure up to their own standard. They are not the heirs of Andrew Jackson; they are the heirs of Ezra Pound, people who hate their country and admire a foreign power they find more pure, more true, more authentic than America. Today, they harbor a barely-hidden admiration for bin Laden, like Hitler before him a man willing to kill millions if necessary in the name of purity. They are to the legitimate American Right what the Communists were to the legitimate American Left. Good for the National Review for throwing them out yet again.

Very narrow, sectarian post coming up: about the Conservative Jewish movement's struggle over whether to give smicha (rabbinic ordination) to homosexuals. I had a conversation about this just the other day with a member of my congregation, so I was interested to read the Ha'aretz article.

First, some background. The major difference between Orthodox, Conservative and Reform on the status of Jewish law is as follows. (And apologies to those more knowledgeable than I for such a quick and dirty analysis). There is an established corpus of Jewish law that begins with the Torah text, the Mishnah (a late-Roman era legal code), and the Talmud (a commentary on the Mishnah, among other things), and extends through the ancient, medieval and modern decisors who have weighed in on specific legal questions, and codifiers who consolidated these decisions into codes of law. Probably the most important such code is the Shulchan Aruch ("the set table") which is about 500 years old, which omits much of the debate, exegisis and commentary and cuts right to the chase in a very decisive manner (and is, in that sense, a very modern text).

The Orthodox view is: this corpus of law is dispositive and cannot be overturned. Indeed, traditions that do not originate in the corpus can attain a law-like status over time. There is a role for living rabbis to clarify ambiguities and to decide genuinely new questions in a manner consistent with existing law, as well as to supervise the community and make sure that established law is carried out (this is particularly important with respect to the laws of kosher slaughtering, which are arcane). But there is no room for living rabbis to directly overrule the corpus of law, even if the basis for earlier decisions is no longer valid. (That said, living rabbis are capable of being remarkably creative, particularly in articulating how apparently decisive precedent is, in fact, narrower than it appears on first glance, leaving room for innovation. There is also frequently sufficient diversity among precedent for rabbis to respond creatively and pragmatically to modern challenges, within limits.)

The Conservative view is: the corpus of law is binding, but it can be overturned by a body of living rabbis, specifically: by the Rabbinical Assembly. This difference is why I sometimes say Conservative Judaism is to the Church of England as Orthodox Judaism is to Roman Catholicism: in each case, the dispute is really about the nature and scope of authority, but from that difference many other things follow. In any event, the Orthodox would say that only a Sanhedrin can overrule clear precedent, and that a Sanhedrin cannot be convened until the Messianic Age; the Conservative would say that the Rabbinical Assembly is in many ways analogous to the Sanhedrin. As a pragmatic matter, many Orthodox criticize the Conservative for paying lip-service to religious law, but in fact being willing to change the law whenever it conflicts with contemporary mores.

The Reform view is: the corpus of law is not binding. It is a spiritual resource for all Jews. Rabbis are, effectively, not legal decisors but spiritual leaders and guides to this corpus of tradition, from which each individual Jew is to construct a relationship to God through a unique understanding of Judaism.

So how does this play into the whole gay-rabbi thing? Well, the law with respect to at least certain homosexual acts is very clear: they are prohibited. Certain acts are prohibited in very strong language (you know the lines I mean). Other acts would fall under the rubric of general "lewdness" (as, indeed, all lesbian acts would) and are also frowned upon but much less firmly. (To give you an idea of how this technical stuff doesn't track our presuppositions: lesbian intercourse would, from an Orthodox perspective, be far less serious a transgression than intercourse with a menstruating woman.)

That being the case, the general feeling (and the decision of the RA in 1992) has been: how can you call someone a decisor of religious law if they show contempt for that law by their lifestyle?

I have always thought that this approach is totally inadequate. It is not reasonable to assert that Judaism does not have anything to say about how gay men should live. It is also rather contrary to Jewish approaches to sexuality to say that anyone should be totally celibate. It would seem, then, that Judaism leaves only two paths open for thinking about homosexuality: either (a) it must be overcome (cured, if you will), or (b) if this is impossible, it must be accommodated. I don't see a third alternative. And if it is to be accommodated, that means having a structure for accommodation.

Such a structure does exist. There is a traditional doctrine with respect to sins committed under "compulsion" which would encompass both internal and external compulsion. Sins which are victimless crimes can be excused under this rubric. And if this doctrine is applicable in the case of male homosexuality, then I don't understand why gay men could not be ordained as rabbis. If they really are compelled (internally) to be as they are, then there should be a way for them to live as they are that is not construed as sinful. And if it is not sinful, then in what sense are they being unfaithful to halacha?

I recognize that I'm opening the same can of worms here as is being opened in the case of state-sanctioned gay marriage. I can think of two other grounds on which to exclude gay men from the rabbinate: (1) that, even if they effectively operate under a heter that accommodates their lifestyle, they should be understood as "impaired" and therefore ineligible for religious officiation; (2) that, even if they are technically eligible, admitting them would give people the wrong idea about what is permitted, and therefore they should be excluded. I think both these arguments are rebuttable.

The first falls because rabbinic ordination is not, I think, a ritual position. Perhaps a gay priest cannot perform the priestly blessings (a vestige of the much more substantial priestly function that existed at the time of the Temple in Jerusalem); I'm not going to opine on that. But no one would say that a blind man cannot be a rabbi, even though a blind priest could not officiate at the Temple. So why exclude a gay rabbi on these grounds?

The second falls because it is somewhat circular. Because there is no accommodation of gay individual as gay in Judaism, accommodating them would confuse people, who would think that the law had been changed. But if an accommodation is established, then the contours of this accommodation will become comprehensible to people, and the concern should abate. Moreover, there is a strong counter argument: that forbidding what need not be forbidden encourages contempt for the law. This is a real concern in the Conservative world. In the Orthodox world, people one-up each other to see who can be more strict. But in the Conservative world, the failure to articulate religious law in a way that is persuasive just convinces people that the law should be ignored. This is not an argument for simply making the law into whatever people want it to be. It is an argument against the purely pragmatic rationale of forbidding change because change would be confusing and disruptive.

I note that Ha'aretz cites a nominally Conservative rabbi who performs gay "marriages" and has not been censured. As the article points out, this is far more radical than anything officially countenanced by Reform Judaism, and far more radical than ordaining gay rabbis. It is, indeed, completely indefensible; it's effectively a parody of the Jewish marriage ceremony. I think there should be some accommodation in Judaism for uniting gay couples. But to use the formulas for Jewish marriage to do so is as much an insult to Jewish tradition as to use those formulas to marry a Jew and a non-Jew. I can't imagine why this guy hasn't been called on the carpet.

But then, it's often this way in Conservative circles. Ordaining women as rabbis was a far less radical step than counting women as part of the minyan (the prayer quorum), or allowing them to lead prayer services. There is precedent in the tradition for women to act as legal decisors, when they had the proper education. It is a much bigger job to overturn the tradition that women, being excluded from the responsibility to form a prayer quorum, are nonetheless permitted to be counted in one. (I'm not going to go into details; trust me that it's heavier lifting.) Nonetheless, counting women in the minyan passed with nary a ripple through Conservative congregations, while ordaining women rabbis caused a (minor) split in the movement. All this does is confirm what the Orthodox say about us: that we don't care about the integrity of the law, just about keeping a romantic connection to an unlived tradition. (Another way of putting it: we want our rabbis to be observant so we don't have to be.)

My bottom line: the real challenge for Conservative Judaism is to approach homosexuality in a frank manner and with halachic integrity. Deciding in a liberal or a conservative direction because of political considerations would be disastrous. I believe that such an approach would leave open real routes to an accommodation of gay Jews as gays and as Jews. I hope the RA rises to the challenge.

For those who are subscribers, the Wall Street Journal has a very interesting and strongly negative bit about the Kurds (by a fellow whom I don't know, but whose name sounds Turkish to me - just FYI). His main point seems to be: the Kurds are not democrats; they are a collection of tribes who don't trust each other and are aiming mainly at personal and national aggrandizement, at the expense, likely, of minorities within their own region.

I don't know how much credit to give the story. But for that matter, I never gave much credit to claims (in places like The New Republic, or The Weekly Standard, or, for that matter, the Wall Street Journal), that the Kurds were "incipient democrats." The only thing we know for sure about the Kurds, Shiites, etc. is that Saddam Hussein has murdered them in huge numbers and with relish. Their suffering is not to be questioned. What they would do with freedom is another matter.

This is not, fundamentally, a war to make the world (or the Middle East) safe for democracy. It is a war to make the world (and the Middle East) safe from Saddam Hussein. The optimistic upside scenario is that we manage to help Iraq become a functioning, democratizing country friendly to the West. But the base-case scenario is just that one of the more dangerous individuals on earth is out of power, and that a principle has been established that dangerous enemies of America are not safe from American arms.

I like to be an optimist. But I don't think we should sell ourselves a bill of goods here. Iraq is going to be a big challenge to make into a functioning nation-state, to say nothing of a democracy, because outside of the central region around Baghdad, the various tribes that make up Iraq don't consider themselves a nation. And no one knows how to make them one.

Here's a question for all you poli-sci bloggers out there: how stable is a 3-party system? I ask, because that's what Britain now has, and has had for some time.

Once upon a time (say, 20 years ago), Britain had a three-party system in which the Tories were on the Right, Labor was on the Left, and the Lib Dems were goo-goos generally on the (American sense) Liberal end of things, but not Red. (Think of the Liberal Party of New York for a comparison.) The result, for a while, was Tory domination of the country, because the Lib Dems and Labor split the vote in enough locations to give the Tories a huge majority in seats on the back of a plurality of popular votes.

Now, with Tony Blair's New Labor claiming the Center under the banner of the New Class, the Lib Dems have morphed into the neo-Left party. Unlike the old-guard Left, their mantra is less about nationalization of industry and more about anti-globalization, anti-Americanism, pacifism, multi-culturalism, etc. The result has been clear electoral success for Labor, and the collapse of the Tories.

How stable is this system? In America, third parties have had a significant impact on Presidential politics in 1860, 1912, 1968 and 1992, and there are probably a few other, less-dramatic cases I'm not thinking of. In 1860, the third party became the new second party. In 1912 and 1992, the third party temporarily shifted dominance to the previously weaker major party, but there was no long-term realignment. In 1968, the third party heralded a permanent shift in the composition of the two major parties, a realignment in American politics. But overall, third parties have remained marginal because it is very hard, in a district system where victory goes to the individual candidate who wins a plurality, for a third party to gain a foothold in Congress, and the Electoral College similarly makes it difficult for third-parties to mount a credible Presidential challenge.

In a proportional-rep system, third- and fourth- and fifth-parties make a lot of sense, because a small party can win benefits for its constituents in coalition negotiations. But Britain has a first-past-the-post system, and the plurality winner gets the seat. I would think this would work against the presence of other-than-regional third parties. So why have the Lib Dems persisted - persisted to the point that their position on the political spectrum has moved significantly? I'm sure there's a simple poli-sci explanation; I'm just curious what it is.

Jonathan Rauch makes the best case I've seen so far that Bush's North Korea policy is the right one. But I note that even he isn't totally convinced.

Monday, March 17, 2003
The markets are supposed to be neutral risk-measuring machines. But it's kind of funny how, after the weekend's news that the "window of diplomacy has closed" that European markets sold off in the morning, then rallied sharply as soon as the U.S. markets opened, on a strong rally. And no, it isn't a case of "war helps America and hurts Europe" because Globex S&P futures traded off during European hours along with the European markets. European traders just looked at things differently than American traders.

Most of the commentary is saying that the markets are now discounting a short war and minimal damage to oil supplies. I think that's part of it (though what has changed about this assessment since last Monday? beat's me). I think a bigger factor is simply the elimination of uncertainty: now we know, war is coming, imminently, and we can stop discounting uncertainty and start discounting likely costs and benefits. But one factor that I don't think has been discussed so much is that the markets were discounting the sheer monetary cost of diplomacy. The price tag for bringing reluctant allies along was getting huge, and we had still made no headway with Mexico or Turkey, to say nothing of France of Russia. If Bush remained committed to winning more support, what would it cost in terms of sheer spending? And if a huge military commitment was going to be maintained indefinitely while diplomacy continued, what would the ultimate price tag for the military side come to? I think the market was starting to get nervous about these ever-escalating numbers, with no sign of where they would top out.

Now we'll see what happens tomorrow, when the market starts thinking about the costs of reconstruction.

Friday, March 14, 2003
So the Pentagon has apparently come up with a Jungian personality type system for entire countries. Who knew? And has anyone informed John Derbyshire?

For those unfamiliar with this sort of analysis, it breaks down as follows:

* Extraverted (E) vs. Introverted (I) (means just what you'd think: are you oriented towards the outside world or towards the inner world of yourself)
* Intuitive (N) vs. Sensing (S) (has to do with relative comfort with abstraction and concrete reality; in any event, this is )
* Thinking (T) vs. Feeling (F) (doesn't mean exactly what you'd think; "thinking" means making decisions impersonally while "feeling" means making decisions on the basis of relationships)
* Judging (J) vs. Perceiving (P) (you would think *this* would mean how we make decisions, but no; what it means is which is dominant: the Intuitive-Sensing axis or the Thinking-Feeling axis - that is to say, when you approach the outside world, do you first try to comprehend it, either intuitively or through sensing, or do you first make decisions about it, whether on the basis of objective rules or personal relationships)

Here's how the countries break down, according to the Pentagon:

Israel, India and Pakistan: INTP/INTJ
Britain and Italy: ESFP/ESFJ
China and Saudi Arabia: ISTP/ISTJ
Japan, Egypt and Spain: ISFP/ISFJ
Iran, Russia and Serbia: INFP/INFJ
Germany and Sweden: ESTP/ESTJ
France and Turkey: ENTP/ENTJ
Portugal, Holland and the good old US of A: ENFP/ENFJ

(For those who care, I am an INTP. Pat Buchanan would no doubt offer this as further evidence that I am more loyal to my fellow INTP Israelis than to red-blooded ENFP Americans.)

In case you're wondering whether I'm building up to make fun of the Pentagon for this ludicrous exercise, I'm not. I think these sorts of exercises are actually quite useful. They are a way of organizing our "emotional intelligence" about how to best approach other people - or other nations. But mostly, I just thought this would be a welcome diversion from an increasingly depressing world scene.

Have a good weekend, folks.

You know, various people have emailed me Pat Buchanan's piece in The American Conservative acusing "the Jews" of fomenting war in Israel's interest and against America's, and suggested I add to my post from Tuesday. But you know, I've been busy, and Jonah Goldberg did so much better job than I would have done, that I'll just stick to linking to him.

Wednesday, March 12, 2003
I should probably just rename this blog I Read Stanley Kurtz's Stuff Religiously And Blog About It Blog. It's starting to get embarrassing.

Stanley Kurtz is distinguished for being one of the few, if not the only, commentator willing to come out strongly against gay marriage, to the point of amending the U.S. Constitution to prevent it, without starting from a religious premise of any kind. He had a running (and very civil) argument with Andrew Sullivan about the topic some time ago, an argument in which Andrew Sullivan came out by far the worse. I've had a running argument with him (and Sullivan) myself (see, for example, here, here, here and here) on the topic.

So, in his latest piece on the topic, Kurtz points to a case in Canada where a lesbian couple and their male friend, sperm donor for the child they are raising, want to be recognized by the state collectively as the child's parents. The judge is receptive.

Kurtz sees this primarily as evidence that the whole push for gay marriage has caused us to completely lose our bearings about what marriage is. He may be right; he's certainly starting to convince me. But I continue to believe that the root of the problem is contempt for children, and an increasing assumption on the part of our culture (and judicial system) that children are a species of property. This is the thread that runs through our thinking about abortion, our divorce law, and the debate about the definition of marriage. Marriage is increasingly understood as having nothing to do with family obligations, particularly to children. It is increasingly understood as formal recognition of a romantic attachment, a matter for consenting adults in which the larger community - and even other members of the family - have no proper input.

Let me change the terms of the Canadian case a bit, to remove the gay element. Suppose a woman with an infertile husband turned to a friend to inseminate her - with her husband's knowledge and consent - and then the troika appeared before a judge asking to be recognized as the child's three parents. Would the judge be so sympathetic?

I suspect not. I'm not an expert in adoption law and paternity, but I imagine that in a case such as I am outlining, the law would either give the biological father the ability to assert his rights (in a contest that might presume in his favor or might be decided on the basis of the child's best interest), or he would be denied that chance in favor of the presumption that the husband was the legal father, whatever the biological relationship. I cannot imagine that a judge would cavalierly say that, if both men wish it, they could both be recognized by the state as fathers of the child. So in that sense, I think Kurtz is right: trhe judge has probably lost her marbles because of the gay element, and has been thereby rendered unable to see the absurdity of the case before her.

But you know, I don't think this is the root of the problem. After all, if the judge were willing to acknowledge the gay couple as the parents, but understood that there have to be rules for establishing who is responsible for a child, the judge could simply have said: no, this couple is no different from a married couple, and therefore either the biological father has presumptive rights or the lesbian partner of the mother has presumptive rights, or we decide in the best interest of the child, however the law reads. Why didn't she see things this way? Was it just the gay element?

I don't think so. I remember a case some time ago in the US where grandparents sued for some share in the "custody" of their grandchildren (the kids' parents' having refused to let the children see them). That seems to me a quite analogous situation to the case at hand: a party involved to some extent in the rearing of the child wants the law to recognize "rights" with respect to that child. In other words, the suit treats the child as a species of property, in which various parties have rights which need to be balanced and shared equitably. I suspect that open adoption - which has many passionate advocates - is going to present similar challenges to established law: attempts to have both the adoptive parents and the natural parents recognized as legal parents.

What's going to happen to children raised by groups of legal parents when these groups, inevitably, splinter? There are only three realistic possibilities. One, the law will grant all parties the kinds of visitation or joint-custody rights that deform the childhoods of so many children of divorce - only with the deformation multiplied many times. Whatever the legal fiction, these children will be raised essentially without families, and the law will have further progressed in the direction of treating children as property, a development which cannot but affect the treatment of all children. Two, the law will grant presumptive sole custody to the biological mother, with rare exceptions; this will effectively mean the end of fatherhood as a legal concept, and therefore the end of the family. Three, the law will make a "best-interests" judgement in every case as to whom should be granted custody of children. In effect, this will end the concept of parenthood as a legal matter; if all those with bonds of affection to a child can sue to assert "parenthood," with the state deciding between, we can expect the state to assert itself as, effectively, the only "parent" of all children, with powers temporarily delegated to individual parents who meet necessary social, even political, litmus tests. What these three outcomes have in common is the effective abolition of the family as an autonomous institution, and a radical expansion of the power of the state.

As I say, Kurtz is increasingly convincing that the gay marriage debate is the leading edge of a larger effort to eliminate marriage - and parenthood - as we understand them. But it doesn't have to be that way. I continue to believe that trying to shore up marriage simply by asserting that gay marriage is an absurdity, or by pointing to the dangerous follow-ons, is not going to be effective in the long term. The best way to shore up marriage and family is to do just that, directly: articulate what a marriage is, essentially, and what a family is, in terms that refer to something other than convention, religion and tradition. The force of these claims are fading fast. We need to bring other arms to the fore.

Tuesday, March 11, 2003
You know, I've been trying really hard not to call the explosion in anti-Israel feeling "anti-Semitism." I've been trying very hard not to be paranoid and hysterical, because I hate Jewish hysteria. I've written before that I think Jewish neo-cons mis-interpret World War II, and that this colors their mis-understanding of the purpose of American power today. I've written that I think the Holocaust Museum does not belong on the Mall, and should be removed to some other location, and that specifically the existence of such a museum when there is no Museum of Slavery and Anti-Slavery is a terrible insult to black Americans. I am aware that Jews are a minority in this country, and that this imposes special constraints and obligations, as it does on all minorities. I think I have a reasonable amount of credibility on the topic of Jewish influence and that I am not a paranoid and hysterical Jew.

But my defenses are crumbling. I've blogged about this, too, before. It seems to me that to believe "the Jews" are behind the war with Iraq you have to believe not only that "the Jews" act collectively and are disloyal to their country, but have some plausible explanation as to how they have come to control the Bush Administration - an Administration that raised relatively little money from Jewish sources, whose strongest backers are Texas oil men more likely to be friends of the Arabs than of Israel, headed by a President who campaigned actively for Muslim votes, and whose family has close personal ties with the House of Saud. By rights, if this Administration were biased because of its sources of support and its personal connections, it would be biased towards the Saudis, and against the Israelis, not the other way around. So to believe that Israel somehow "controls" the Bush White House through its purported agents, Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and so forth, you have to believe that either Bush is stupid enough to cross his core supporters by appointing these people, or that these Jews have some magical powers of persuasion otherwise unknown to mortals.

I'm afraid anti-Semitism is the right word for public speculation that "the Jews" are running this Administration against American interests, because the assertion is transparently irrational. There is no plausible explanation for how "the Jews" control this White House. Moreover, the sorts of folks who make these assertions never attempt to provide even a cursory explanation; it is simply assumed that the presence of Jews proves their influence. But Bush and Cheney picked Wolfowitz and Elliot and the rest of the neo-con crowd. Why? What mysterious hold do "the Jews" have on these apparently intelligent and sober men that makes them follow Sharon's every command? Precisely what strings do the nefarious Jews have to pull? Bush didn't win many Jewish votes last time, and he doesn't really need them next time; Jews on concentrated in states that would be a reach for Bush in anything but a landslide election. Bush didn't raise a lot of Jewish money last time, and he doesn't need it next time; he's doing fine relying on more traditional Republican sources and his own family network. The "Jewish" industries of media and finance have been less than friendly to the Bush Administration. The Likudniks may be in charge - but if they are, it's because two Methodists from deep in Republican country put them there and want them there. And even if you think Bush is a gibbering idiot whom Sharon has hypnotized, how do you explain Dick Cheney? Donald Rumsfeld?

Let's talk honestly. The Bush Administration clearly thinks support for Israel is in America's interests. So the leftist anti-war crowd is at least consistent; they are against America and they are against Israel, and whether they hate Israel or America first, whether they hate Israel because they think it's an American colonial outpost or hate America because it is the exemplar of cosmopolitan, "Jewish" capitalism hardly matters. But the paleo-cons who are convinced that the Bush Administration is really the Sharon Administration should be more honest in their assessment of the situation. They should not attack Jews for their supposed influence. If they are going to bring Jews into the equation, they should attack Bush for being a Jew-lover. I think that would be clarifying to all concerned: the problem is not that Jews have mysteriously taken control of the White House through their dark arts; the problem is that our country is being led by a full-blooded WASP who actually supports the Jewish state.

You know the funny thing? After he takes all this heat for being a tool of Jewish interests, Bush still won't get a majority of Jewish votes when he runs for reelection.

Monday, March 10, 2003
And thank-you, in turn, John Derbyshire!

Apologies to new readers visiting from either of the recent links; unfortunately, I'm going to have to content you with old stuff this morning as work-work has been insane. But maybe we'll all get lucky this afternoon.

Wednesday, March 05, 2003
Thank-you, Stanley Kurtz, for the compliment and for directing readers my way. I'm always honored when you link to me.

Visitors: sorry there's not much new today. It's been a hectic day at work. So enjoy old stuff. And pick up the latest issue of Commentary; I've got a book review in it.

This may be the last Arab summit, which is perhaps the true profit of this meeting. At long last we will be able to be nation-states and not a meaningless Arab nation.

The words are from an Egyptian commentator on the recent, farcical Arab summit. All I can say is: from your mouth, and the pages of Ha'aretz to God's ear.

I've blogged before (see here, here, here, here, here and here, for example) about the importance of an authentic nationalism to the ultimate emergence of the Arab world from its present dark age. The notion of an "Arab Nation," like that of a "Nation of Islam" is an evasion of a real nationalism and a cause of, not a solution to, their predicament, comparable to Slavophilism and German Aryan racial theories. I don't know if there's anything we, in the West, can do to promote the development of a healthy, authentic nationalism, other than by our own example. I suspect there's very little we can do. But we should certainly encourage any glimmerings we see.

Monday, March 03, 2003
So Paul Johnson has articulated 5 lessons from the run-up to war in Iraq:

(1) Don't trust the French - in fact, treat them as, effectively, an enemy because of their penchant for coddling and arming our enemies.
(2) Therefore, don't let the Germans be subsumed by the French, but act to pull them out of their current alignment.
(3) Don't use the U.N., trust to coalitions tailored to specific situations where interests are common.
(4) Disband NATO and repatriate our forces in Europe; rely only on Britain, rare bases in other friendly locales, and largely on the seas for "basing."
(5) Cultivate the will to act alone.

Tough stuff. (1) is pretty commonly heard these days on the Right, as are (3) and (5). (4) is fairly extreme; what you hear more often is that we should move our German bases to Poland and Czechia, countries eager to curry favor with America. But there is a deepening sense that NATO as it has been is no longer. So the interesting comment is (2).

Perhaps I am not entirely objective, but the basis for Johnsons' confidence in the German character is, to me, obscure. One thing that has been brought home by the recent elections there is: this is not our fathers' Germany. (Not our grandfathers' either, of course; don't get me wrong.) Prior to reunification, Germany was a conservative society, firmly anchored in the West and deeply grateful to the Americans for saving them from themselves and for not destroying them in vengeance for their crimes. Adenauer had recast the German character in Christian rather than national terms after the war, and the change appeared to have taken.

But in the East, this is not what happened. It is striking that the East Germans, unlike the Poles, Czechs, Hungarians, Lithuanians and so forth, did not come out of the Cold War with strong pro-American feelings. After all, they were no less a captive nation, and no less saved from Communism by American firmness and constancy. Why are their attitudes towards America more comparable to those of the Russians than those of the Poles? Because East Germany is still, well, German. It was never de-Nazified; it never had its identity reconstructed by its own people, only by a foreign conqueror. When East Germans dig out from under the Russian oppression, and look to restore their former glory, what they unearth is the Reich and its precursors in German nationalism. The ossies see their relative deprivation next to their brothers in Hamburg and Frankfurt, and, naturally enough, associate their own loss of status with German national humiliation. This is, after all, how Germans looked at the world from the beginning of the modern German state through the destruction of the Second World War.

In the new Germany, these resentful ossies hold the balance of power. The pacifist, anticapitalist Red-Green coalition of Schroeder and Fischer commands well short of a majority in the old West Germany. But a strong and successful appeal to Eastern voters pushed them over the top. And this reality in turn, I believe, is changing the character of the Left in the old West Germany, making it more anti-American than it was, more prone to the old German radicalism.

So I question Johnson's judgement on this point. And a great deal depends on this question, specifically: are we to actively try to destroy the European Union, or merely to contain it.

If we neither contain nor destroy it, the European Union threatens to gobble up a vast percentage of the West and subordinate it to France. This is explicitly why the Union was created, so it should be no surprise. And this is obviously against American interest. It is vital that Poland, Britain, Turkey, perhaps Spain and Italy - that all nations who are essentially friendly to America retain the freedom to articulate a foreign policy independent of Brussels. On so much, Johnson and I agree. To contain the EU would mean to try to restrict its political core to France, Germany and the BeNeLux, and encourage other European states to associate more loosely with the Union for trade benefits, and to similarly negotiate favorable trade relationships with the U.S.

A successful containment would, however, result in a necessarily close relationship between France and Germany, probably leading to the merger of the two countries, along with the BeNeLux. On the assumption that France would be the dominant power in this partnership (a good assumption), such a result would be a real negative from Johnson's perspective.

The alternative, however, means intervening actively to break up the European Union, and this is not so easy a project, I think, nor is it without its risks. The primary reason that we have long supported the Union, after all, is that long experience has tought us that Franco-German rivalry is a Bad Thing, leading to enormous wars that we have to come in to finish. It is perhaps true that the Germans have honor, and that their interests truly coincide with America and Britain more than with France. But the Germans also have yearnings, yearnings which historically have been left unsatisfied as a junior partner in a British-dominated world. It is far from certain, after all, that British and German interests in, say, 1910 could not have been brought into harmony, had Germany not been determined to achieve practical independence from Britain and to dominate the Continent. Why is Johnson so sure that a policy to separate Germany from France would permanently anchor Germany in a pro-American orientation?

Unfortunately, this pessimistic forecast re: North Korea from Stanley Kurtz sounds about right to me. I think Kurtz understates the diplomatic risks of war, however. At this point, we really are at risk of the complete collapse of the American-led security architecture of the northwest Pacific. I've been panicked about this for some time, and nothing has transpired to reassure me.

Kurtz outlines the case for war clearly. North Korea is primarily dangerous as a nuclear proliferator. The regime will, clearly, sell anything for cash. They have already cooperated on missile and nuclear technology with Pakistan, arguably the biggest nuclear risk in the world because our primary Islamist enemies have a significant foothold within the country (albeit this risk is mitigated by the fact - dramatically illustrated this past weekend - that the Pakistani government continues to place a very high value on maintaining at least minimally positive relations with America, and therefore in cooperating with us in the war on al-Qaeda). They have the capability to mass-produce nuclear material. They consider their agreements to be worthless and have minimal intercourse with the outside world that could be used to pressure them to disarm. Their leader is a deranged playboy completely out of touch with reality, the Commodus of the 21st century. If we let North Korea go, we'll lose the war on terror. But we probably can't bring them to heel short of war.

But let's think for a moment about the consequences of war. Kurtz outlines the physical costs well. If the United States launched a preemptive (non-nuclear) strike against the North's nuclear facilities, the North would certainly retaliate. They might launch a full-scale conventional assault against South Korea, with the potential for killing hundreds of thousands, obliterating much of Seoul and devastating the American forces on the penninsula. Kurtz reassures us that America would win, although at a high cost. But would we? How would South Korea respond to America plunging them into war against their will? Would they rally around the Americans assisting in their defense? Or would they demand the immediate withdrawal of any American presence in Korea and sue for peace on Northern terms? The war, after all, was started by us, for our own defense, without their approval, and they are expected to die for it. And if they did kick us out, how could we win - or even prosecute - the war? We might have bought time by wiping out the reactor, but at the cost of losing an important ally, and in a few years the crisis could well recur (as it did in Iraq ten years after Osirak.) Suppose, now, that North Korea, instead of launching a massive attack against the South, launched a few (non-nuclear) missiles against Tokyo? How would America respond? A massive attack on North Korea would certainly turn South Korea into an enemy, and a firm ally of China. But anything less would necessarily end our alliance with Japan; if we didn't defend them when attacked, what is our relationship worth?

Because we do not have South Korean and Japanese support for war with the North, a war started by the United States, it seems to me, would be overwhelmingly likely to destroy our relationship with South Korea and very likely with Japan as well, dramatically weakening the American presence in the western Pacific, and strengthening China. That's why China has no real interest in restraining North Korea: because American appeasement and belligerence alike push the other countries in the region towards China, and enhance China's position relative to the U.S. Moreover, it is very realistic to imagine that we would lose a war with North Korea, not because our forces are insufficient to achieve victory but because the South Koreans sue for a separate peace, making it practically impossible for America to continue hostilities.

I previously thought that the way to avoid this scenario is the same model followed with Iraq: make clear the case in a global forum that North Korea is an outlaw state that must be brought to heel, build a global consensus for action, and thereby assure that a war unfolds in a diplomatic context more favorable to the U.S. But the whole diplomatic process is looking pretty awful with respect to Iraq; rather than uniting the world, it has threatened to split the Western Alliance. The same could take place in East Asia: we could go to the U.N. demanding North Korea disarmament and South Korea, China and Russia could all line up against us. And then where would we be? Right back where we started, but with the world on record as opposing war. What a wonderful diplomatic context in which to fight.

Our alliances are not what they once were. During the Cold War, the front-line states were Japan, South Korea, Germany, Italy, Turkey, etc. America had a strong community of interest with these states. They were the most at risk from a Soviet attack, but we had a strong military and economic interest in their freedom. We were willing to risk our lives and treasure to defend them because they were front-line states defending us and our interests. Now, the front-line state is America, but our ability to project power continues to depend on our allies, who increasingly feel that they would be better off appeasing America's enemies rather than standing with America against them. Yes, Germany is at risk from Islamic terrorism - but not so at risk as America, and standing with America would put them more at risk, not less, until the war is won (if it can be won, which they doubt). Yes, South Korea is at risk from North Korea - but these days appeasement is much more risky to America than to South Korea, because the main North Korean threat is from proliferation, and war with the North would cost the South much more than it would cost the Americans. Yes, Iraq is a threat to Turkey - but war in Iraq is also a threat, and the costs of sitting out look less significant than the costs of joining up, particularly when you remember that America has a storng interest in Turkish friendship and stability even if they are not helpful during the war. (Don't agree? Remind me: how did we respond to Jordan's support for Saddam in 1991? We largely excused it as understandable given their weak position, and ultimately redoubled our support for the Hashemites - because we continued to need them, even though they had not been helpful.)

The Bush Administration's national security strategy is premised on the assumption that the Great Powers - and, for that matter, the lesser but democratic powers - have sufficient interests in common that they can cooperate on global security. But this is not the case. Franco-German interests do not perfectly dovetail with America's interests; how much less so do China's. If we have to worry not only about direct threats to our security but rivals to our supremacy, the prosecution of our current war gets much more complicated. We have to think not only of the relative costs of appeasement of or war with North Korea in the short term, but the impact of our decisions on the likelihood of war with China further down the road.

Sunday, March 02, 2003
For those of you who are interested, this blogger's work is appearing this month on the dead trees of Commentary Magazine - specifically, a review of David Klinghoffer's book, The Discovery of God: Abraham and the Birth of Monotheism. Click here to read the review. Or better yet, go to the newsstand and buy the magazine, 'cause it's a humdinger of an issue, including a spirited "controversy" over David Berlinski's piece a few issues ago critical of both Darwin's theory of evolution and so-called "intelligent design" theory and three excellent pieces on North Korea, Afghanistan and Pakistan - and how we're faring on these other (i.e. non-Iraqi) fronts of our current war.